Critical Reading—Student Sample

Definition Claims/
Category Claims

We spoke only briefly in class about types of claims, so I don’t expect you to readily recognize a definition/categorical claim. Obviously, it’s a claim about how a term is defined or what category of thing it belongs to. We can start there. Here are some claim types.

1. Definition. When you say “PTSD is a psychological disorder,” in your first five words you’re making a definition claim.
2. Categorical. A simple categorical claim would be the naming of several examples of PTSD symptoms (hyperawareness, sleeplessness, quick anger). They all belong to the category: Symptoms of PTSD.
3. Causal. An example of a causal claim you’ll likely encounter is that PTSD develops as a result of sustained trauma. The claim is that “Trauma causes PTSD.”
4. Categorical/Causal. The question the article raises “Is PTSD contagious?,” depending on how we phrase it, is either a categorical question (Does PTSD belong in the category “contagious conditions”?), or a causal question (Can one human “catch” PTSD from another human?).

Calling PTSD “contagious” also seems like an analogy, doesn’t it? Colds and flus are likely contagious. Measles is; polio is. But if we say a yawn is contagious, or that enthusiasm is contagious, we’re making an analogy to suggest, poetically, that a yawn belongs to the category: contagious things.

Yawning isn’t spread through bacteria or viruses, so it isn’t literally contagious. Neither is enthusiasm. But it spreads similarly to diseases: one person in close proximity to others transfers a condition: a physical yawn or an purposeful emotional energy to a roomful of other people, for example.

So what do you think? Is PTSD transferred from one person to another? If so, is the process more like spreading the flu, or more like spreading enthusiasm? Or a third way you could explain in a different analogy?

Did Brannan “catch” Caleb’s PTSD? Or is hers an entirely new case?

The Actual Exercise, Restated

  • A critical analysis of as many definition/categorical claims as you can find and analyze in one hour in “Is PTSD Contagious?”
  • Philosophical musings like those above regarding yawning and enthusiasm are interesting, but are not called for in this assignment.
  • Format your claim analyses to help your professor find your examples.
    • Pull quotes from the original.
    • Analyze the claims directly from the quotes.

Student Sample

  • Last semester’s class did not format their exercises as suggested above, so I can’t show you a sample of that technique.
  • They were also not told to identify individual definition and categorical claims.
  • However, the student featured below did a creditable job of informally analyzing claims from the source material. I offer it to you as a sample of a smart student making good observations.
  1. Is PTSD contagious? If by “contagious” the question means “learned,” then yes.
  2. Caleb Vines is an Army veteran who like many suffers from severe PTSD. However PTSD is as much a behavior as it is a condition.
  3. Caleb has a daughter, Katie and a wife, Brannan. Both Katie and Brannan have what appears to be PTSD but there is no clear proof aside from this article that the behaviors that Brannan and Katie both exhibit are PTSD.
  4. In the article, Mac McClelland mentions what she calls “secondary PTSD.”
  5. Like secondary smoking, Secondary PTSD would make sense.
  6. Habits acted out by the addicted sufferer pass down certain characteristics to those proximal to the source.
  7. While Caleb exhibits the symptoms of PTSD like frequent nightmares and “hypersensitivity” to everything around him, Katie is growing up seeing this as partially normal behavior.
  8. When Katie goes to bed she thinks about her father’s nightmares, those are her last thoughts. It is no wonder at all that Katie would suffer from nightmares of things she has only heard about.
  9. When Katie is in an uncomfortable social position, just like her father, she begins to feel overly stressed and dismantled by what is going on.
  10. It is not just Katie; Brannan also experiences the same problems. Is it possible that by being so close to Caleb, Brannan has inadvertently developed similar fear triggers to that of Caleb? I say yes, and so does the article.
  11. McClelland mentions the “murderer in the house” scenario, when all the family has to rely on is the nervous wreck of a father figure they have, every moment that should feel hopeful, feels uncontrolled and terrifyingly annoying. 
  12. Like the article explicitly mentions more than once, Brannan has never been to war, neither has Katie.
  13. But imagine the fears and characteristics Caleb exhibits are like a horror movie that Katie and Brannan both watch on a regular basis, sleep and daily activities can harbor many of the same triggers present in the movie that cause increased levels of stress.
  14. McClelland attempts to cite the number of Americans who suffer from PTSD; the numbers are between 100,000 and 400,000.
  15. These margins are steep and possibly caused by the contagious aspects of PTSD, for every one true PTSD sufferer there are many second hand partakers in the repercussive ripple effects that the horrors of war have.
  16. While the released numbers of returned war veterans may vary, the numbers of apparent PTSD sufferers continue to go up over the years regardless of how many veterans appear to be home.
  17. This correlation, or lack thereof, supports the plausibility that PTSD can be transferred as behavior from one person to another.
  18. PTSD is a mental health problem, normally caused by intense trauma but in some cases caused by hearing or seeing the effects of the traumatic experience present in someone else.
  19. Behavior acted on other individuals has ripple effects.
  20. It is not so hard to believe that by suffering from Caleb’s visible suffering, behavior can be picked up almost by operant conditioning.
  21. The article eludes to the possibility of PTSD having much deeper roots than previously assumed, Brannan had “more than enough” time to get over what her husband had been through and passed on to her.
  22. So while PTSD is not the flu, it acts much in the same way.
  23. Behavior is contagious; when a mother warns her child of hanging out with the wrong crowd, many times this is because she does not want the child to turn out like the others.
  24. The influence of one strong feeling over another is proof enough that PTSD can easily be passed from person to person much like a cold.
  25. When McClelland mentions the warrior-like traits that seem to be exhibited by members of Caleb’s family, this does not mean they understand why they are fearful in some situations and more aware of their surroundings in others.
  26. In the beginning, the reader feels the lost sense of directive help that the family feels.
  27. Towards the end, McClelland shows how the fear and anxiety have driven the family to take matters into their own hands by giving help to other under estimated sufferers of secondhand and first degree PTSD.

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels.
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